25 Sep 23

How much does a criminal defense lawyer cost?

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Last Updated on: 25th September 2023, 07:09 pm

How Much Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Cost?

Getting arrested or charged with a crime can be an incredibly stressful and frightening experience. Many people facing criminal charges wonder if they can afford a lawyer to defend them. The cost of a criminal defense lawyer can vary quite a bit depending on your specific charges, location, lawyer experience and other factors.

This article will provide an overview of how much you can expect to pay for a criminal defense attorney to handle your case. We’ll look at typical hourly rates, average flat fees for common crimes, factors that impact costs and options if you cannot afford a lawyer.

Average Hourly Rates for Criminal Defense Lawyers

Many criminal defense attorneys bill by the hour. This means you pay for the actual time they spend working on your case. Tasks they may bill for include:

  • Meeting and communicating with you
  • Reviewing evidence and case documents
  • Conducting legal research
  • Drafting motions and filings
  • Attending hearings and the trial

According to surveys, the average hourly rate for a criminal defense lawyer is around $200-$350 per hour. However, rates can vary significantly based on factors like:

  • Experience level – Lawyers with many years of criminal defense work often charge over $300/hour.
  • Reputation – Well-known lawyers can charge up to $500/hour or more.
  • Location – Rates are typically highest in major cities like New York or Los Angeles.
  • Type of crime – More serious felonies often command higher rates.

While an inexperienced lawyer may charge $150/hour, it’s not uncommon for top criminal defense attorneys to charge $400 or even $500/hour, especially for serious or complex cases. The key is finding a lawyer with rates you can afford, but who still has the skills to effectively defend you.

Average Flat Fees by Type of Crime

Some criminal defense lawyers charge a flat fee for certain types of routine cases, rather than billing by the hour. This provides cost certainty upfront. Common flat fees include:

  • DUI/DWI – $1500-$5000
  • Misdemeanor drug possession – $1000-$3000
  • Assault – $2000-$7500
  • Theft/larceny – $2000-$5000
  • Probation violation – $1000-$2500

For more serious felonies like murder, rape or robbery, most lawyers will bill hourly rather than set a flat fee. Rates for complex federal cases like fraud or embezzlement will also typically be billed at an hourly rate.

Factors That Impact Criminal Defense Costs

The overall cost of a criminal defense lawyer can be influenced by many factors, including:

  • Your location – Major metro areas have the highest average rates.
  • Lawyer experience – Decades of criminal defense work often equates to higher rates.
  • Reputation of lawyer – Well-known lawyers or law firms cost more.
  • Type of crime – More serious crimes often have higher costs.
  • Number of charges – Multiple charges mean more work and higher fees.
  • Stage of case – Early plea deals save time and money vs. going to trial.

The complexity of your case will also influence costs. Complicated cases with lots of evidence, multiple codefendants, expert witnesses and lengthy trials will entail more attorney work and higher fees.

Can I Get a Public Defender If I Can’t Afford a Lawyer?

If you cannot afford a criminal defense lawyer, you may qualify for a court-appointed public defender to represent you at no cost. To get a public defender, you will need to show proof that you cannot afford private counsel. This may include:

  • Tax returns and bank statements showing your income and assets
  • Pay stubs or other evidence of current income
  • Documentation of expenses like rent, utilities, childcare, etc.

If you qualify, a public defender from the local Public Defender’s Office will be appointed to your case. Keep in mind public defenders typically handle a high volume of cases. You may also spend less time with a public defender vs. a private lawyer.

However, public defenders are often highly skilled at defending the types of routine criminal cases they handle day in and day out. In many cases, the representation you get from an experienced public defender may be nearly as good as from a private attorney.

Can I Pay a Lawyer Over Time?

If you don’t have the funds to hire a private criminal defense lawyer upfront, some options to pay over time include:

  • Payment plans – Many lawyers allow you to divide legal fees into monthly installments.
  • Credit cards – Some lawyers accept credit cards which allows you to pay over time.
  • Borrow money – You may be able to borrow from 401(k), home equity line or friends/family.
  • Legal defense funds – Special funds exist to help pay legal fees for certain crimes.

If you will be paying a lawyer over time, be sure to get the details of the payment schedule and terms in writing. You want to avoid any surprises or confusion down the road.

Questions to Ask a Criminal Defense Lawyer About Fees

When meeting with criminal defense lawyers, you should ask questions to understand how they charge fees and what your total costs may realistically be. Questions to ask include:

  • Do you charge by the hour, a flat fee, or some other structure?
  • What is your hourly rate if you bill by the hour?
  • How much experience do you have with cases similar to mine?
  • What are all the costs and expenses beyond your legal fees?
  • If billing hourly, what is your best estimate for the total hours needed?
  • Could my case potentially go to trial and how might that impact costs?

A lawyer should be upfront about their rates and experience. They should also give you a realistic, good faith estimate of total fees based on the specifics of your case. This helps avoid any surprises down the road.

Bottom Line on Criminal Defense Lawyer Costs

The cost to hire a criminal defense lawyer can vary greatly based on your charges, location, lawyer experience and other factors. For less serious misdemeanors, fees often start around $1000-$2000. More serious or complex felonies can cost $5000 and up.

While every case is different, some typical average ranges are:

  • DUI – $1500-$5000
  • Misdemeanor drug possession – $1000-$3000
  • Assault – $2000-$7500
  • Theft/larceny – $2000-$5000

Be sure to ask lawyers about their rates and get an estimate for total fees on your specific case. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may qualify for a free public defender.

With the right legal representation and strategic defense, you can potentially achieve the best possible outcome for your criminal charges.